A pair of legs was all I could see

What do I do? What should I say? These were but a couple of the many questions swirling about as I walked toward the first cell on the bottom walk of the housing unit. Inside the cell was someone I had never seen, someone I knew nothing about. That’s not completely true. His name and his death sentence were made know to me prior to my driving to the prison for my first visit.

That day, seven years ago, was a life-changing series of events for me and a series of “firsts.”  I had never spoken to a man who was incarcerated. I had never seen a human being locked in a box. I had never seen a capital offender other than in the movies, on TV, or in a newspaper.

A solid steel door with a small narrow window revealed little in advance. Approaching, I wondered if I should peek in, knock and wait, say his name. I decided to do combination of knock, peek, and speak.

A pair of legs was all I could see. Whoever the fellow was, he was standing on the toilet bowl while talking into the vent. Every two cells are mirror images, both on the top walk and the bottom walk. This is in order to share common plumbing and ventilation. Four offenders, therefore, can speak with some privacy. Those further away can be reached by yelling.

Once I had his attention, and he had signed off on his conversation, I was given a most cheerful greeting. We spoke for about ½ hour. He was a prolific reader and found the prison library somewhat lacking in overall capacity as well as content. I also learned that he had about a year left to live; all of his appeals had been exhausted. His prediction regarding his longevity was correct.

During that year, I saw him several times. Conversations were always interesting. He never wavered in his politeness and well-spoken manner. Even as his date drew near, he displayed a dignity the likes of which I can only dream to maintain in my own life.

I’ve thought of him often. He was instrumental in my ministry’s getting off to a solid and productive start. I miss him.

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